'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Tariq Blows Through Town 

[This post is by guest blogger Richard Estes. Richard lives in Northern California, and co-hosts a radio program, with an emphasis upon peace, civil rights, labor and environmental issues, on KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, CA.]

April is a busy month for me, time for me to sample some of the offerings at the San Francisco International Film Festival, which can be challenging, given the vagaries of the schedule, and the fact that I live far away from the primary venues. Success is measured by how many films that you see that will not be subsequently distributed within the US.

During the 1960s and 1970s, film, literature and politics were inextricably linked, as many movies and novels had a social significance beyond catering to the whims of the marketplace. At least, some films at the festival, especially the foreign ones, show that this legacy survives, even if it has been largely extinguished in the US. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised, despite my busy schedule, to discover that longtime British? Pakistani? leftist Tariq Ali, a figure with an instinctive feel for the interwoven fabric of politics and culture, was going to read from one of his recently published books,

Street Fighting Years
,at the Modern Times bookstore in the Mission District. Few people speak with his warmth, cultural sophistication and directness, so, naturally I made time for it.

With the publication of The Clash of Fundamentalisms in 2002, Ali has been a highly visible public figure, traveling the world extensively to assert an alternative to Bush’s preemptive, imperial, "war on terror" and the Islamic primitivism of al-Qaeda. There is something quaint, almost naive, about his belief that one can change the world through rational observation, analysis and argument. Watching him filter the experience of what we used to describe as "The Third World" through skills that were shaped by the Pakistani and British educational systems, is an eye-opening experience. It is especially striking during a time when a Federal Court of Appeals nominee maintains that there is war against religious belief, and one of the most powerful corporations in the world is intimidated by Christian fundamentalists into abandoning its support for gay rights. Unfortunately, Ali seems to rarely speak at length about his novels, even though his literary insight compassionately draws upon the richness of his political and cultural vision.

But Ali’s secularism is not always comforting for Americans. In regard to the war in Iraq, he places responsibility for the violence solely upon the US, and, consistent with his roots as a supporter of wars of national liberation during the 1960s, obviously empathizes with the resistance. Recalling that riveting scene in Citizen Kane, when Kane’s longtime friend, Jedediah Leland, excoriates him by insisting that the "working man" is going to demand his liberties as his "right" instead of a "privilege" to be granted by Kane, Ali likewise bluntly states that people around the world are going to win their freedom from American imperialism, non-violently, if possible, violently, if necessary, and that he supports them in this endeavor. It is hard to imagine a more direct challenge to the paternalism of many American liberals and leftists.

Ali also has little patience with the sectarianism of the American left. After one questioner criticized him and the other older panel members for insensitivity to the right of younger people to organize themselves, without their interference, Ali was polite, but firm: if you do so, and end the war, we will all applaud, but, if you are not going to do it, don’t stop us from trying to so ourselves, as he related a story about how thousands of schoolchildren walked out of class when the war started, and requested a speaker from the antiwar coalition in London. What were we supposed to do, he asked rhetorically, turn them down? With a hint of bitterness, he concluded, "No other country in the world that I visit talks like this." Only Americans are sufficiently removed to engage in such petty disputes while the fire burns in Iraq, and Iranians, Syrians, North Koreans and Venezuelans feel the heat from the flames.

NOTE: Tariq Ali will appear in Vancouver and Toronto over the next few days before departing the US.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?